Wednesday 30 September 2020

Banana, prune and seed loaf


On Monday I was back from 2 weeks annual leave.  Being in lockdown, I had been home all the time and now I was home to be working from home rather than holidaying from home.  It feels like nothing changes.  But being on holiday, while not finding much time to blog, I found time to make a fancy banana bread and to photograph it nicely.  I also found time to eat it and it was very pleasing.  Best spread with butter - or margarine which is actually what we have.

I baked banana bread for the same reason that I assume others in lockdown did.  We bought too many bananas to convince ourselves we were eating healthily.  Some were good in a smoothie or fruit salad or even the occasional banana sandwich.  I love my banana sandwiches with a lick of butter and some sugar sprinkled on the banana slices which is not really eating that well but they are magnificent with fresh soft bread.  But some bananas got abandoned along the way and begged to be banana bread.

I had my eye on the Three Blue Ducks Banana Bread for some time.  It looked so beautiful with banana slices baked on the top with some cashews sprinkled on it.  Mine didn't look quite like the Three Blue Ducks loaf.  I had so many sesame seeds that I stirred some in and sprinkled heaps on top.  You couldn't even see the banana slices but it still looked pretty once baked.  If you don't have both black and white sesame seeds, you can just use one colour but using both looks so pretty.  And I am a sucker for loaves with seeds.

The other tenet of lockdown is that you use what you have to hand.  No popping out to the shops for a missing ingredient.  We have to be careful to limit our travels around our 5km radius as well as trying to be frugal with the food we have.  I didn't have any dried figs but I had prunes still in the pantry from our first lockdown.  I am curious about what difference the pureed prunes made instead of pureed figs. 

As I baked the bread I talked with my mum on the phone.  I said I had a bad feeling about baking the bread at 160 C.  This was partly my fault as I missed where it said fan forced.  (Though I have a fan forced oven I find I need to have it at the non-fanforced temperature.)  But I was not surprised when I checked it after 45 minutes that it was still very gooey inside.  I cranked up the oven to 200 C and baked it for another 30 minutes.  So next time I would bake it at a higher temperature.

I really loved this banana bread.  It was soft and fragrant.  Not quite the same as banana bread but a close cousin.  I think I particularly loved the crunchy seedy crust.  This was not one for Sylvia who does not like seeds and bits.  So it took a while to eat through it.  The banana loaf made a great treat spread with butter for morning tea or late at night.   I still would like to make a bread that looks like the Three Blue Ducks but for now I am quite satisfied with this version.

More banana cakes and loaves on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Banana cake with maple syrup (v)
Banana and coconut cake (v)
Caramel banana cake
Healthy banana bread
Mum’s banana cake

Banana, prune and seed loaf
Adapted from Three Blue Ducks via The Age Good Food

200g plain flour
10g corn flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 pinch salt
2 eggs
170g sugar (I used raw)
90g prunes, pitted
150ml water
3 medium to large bananas
40g unsalted butter, melted
45ml (3 tbsp) neutral oil
100g black and white sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 200 C.  Generously butter or oil a loaf tin and then tip in about half the seeds and gently rotate the tin so the seeds cling to the bottom and up each side.  Set aside any extra seeds that don't cling as well as remaining seeds.

Mix flours, cinnamon, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a large bowl and set aside.  Blend eggs and sugar.  (I did this with my hand held blender rather than electric beaters.)  Place prunes and water in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil.  Chop one banana and blend with the prunes and water.  (I did this in with the hand held blender.)  Chop a second banana and pulse into the mixture so there is some texture left.  Add butter to melt in warm mixture.  Then stir in the oil, chia seeds and all but a few tablespoons of the seed mixture.  Gently stir in the flour mixture.

Carefully spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, trying not to dislodge the seeds coating the sides.  Slice the third banana and arrange on top of the mixture.  Sprinkle seeds over the bananas.

Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Sit for about 10-15 minutes and then turn out to a wire rack.  Once cooled, store in an airtight container.  My loaf was still good after 10 days.  It is excellent spread with butter or margarine.

On the stereo:
Oz: Missy Higgins

Monday 21 September 2020

Mexican rice (with salsa) and lockdown reflections

All going well, Melbourne is nearing the end of lockdown 2.0.  We are now able to have higher temperatures than diagnoses most days!*  I really feel for those in Europe who are heading into their second lockdown.  The first lockdown felt scary but also a bit novel and exciting to be living in such amazing times.  Keeping up the energy in the second lockdown is harder.  My cooking has got simpler.  I think that is why we started Taco Tuesday.  And we always have leftover salsa.  So today I am pretty happy to share this great recipe I found for a great way to use up salsa.

Before I do, I will indulge in a moan about lockdown.  If not for corona virus, I would be flying to Scotland today, so I am probably feeling it a bit more keenly.  But I have also found myself not recognising an old colleague in the park because we were wearing masks,   My 11 year old daughter has gone months without seeing friends in real life and I hope she gets some decent time in the school with her class before finishing primary school this year.  I had hoped at least to be out of lockdown for my September leave so we could holiday somewhere local but instead it is a staycation.  Some days are fine at home and others are full of thoughts of what we are missing.

The Moreland new station is under construction
As much drama as I get on the bike rides in Brunswick.

What I really dislike about lockdown

  • Masks
  • Border closures
  • Low energy
  • Complex rules
  • Online shopping

Playground equipment tied up

Missing because of lockdown

  • Hugs and smiles - elbow bumps and crinkly eyes are no substitute.
  • Flying to Scotland
  • Meeting friends for a cuppa
  • Arriving at work feeling alive after a good bike ride 
  • Swimming

A stroll through the Melbourne General Cemetery in lockdown with a friend
included a stop at Walter Lindrum's billiard table grave.

5 things to make me happy during lockdown


Looking forward to after lockdown:

  • Sharing lunch with my parents and siblings in Geelong (and those living further away)
  • Able to focus on with my paid work without a child in the house
  • Seeing movies in a cinema
  • The sounds of kids playing together in the school yard
  • A day meandering around galleries, shops, cafes.

 And now onto the recipe which is for all those with waning energy in lockdown.  We have been having lots of comfort food.  Mug cakes.  Pasta.  Noodles.  And Taco Tuesday.  I was so excited to find this recipe for Mexican rice with salsa.  I am not sure if it is only me but so often I open a jar of salsa full of hope and then next time I look at it is is old and beardy.  (Sounds like lockdown!)

It is brilliant when a recipe calls for everything that is in the house.  Did I mention that we are avoiding ducking out for one or two things at the shops.  Good for the budget.  Less good for creativity.   This recipes is a matter of cooking brown rice and adding in a jar of salsa, some corn and beans and I added some greens.


It is very simple to make but rather tasty and can be served with a variety of toppings or in a taco with toppings or beside a taco.  I enjoyed some for lunches as well as dinner.  The original recipe I found had precooked brown rice but in lockdown I could put on the brown rice easily enough.  I made 2 cups but have reduced it to 1 1/2 cups as I think there could have been less rice and more flavour.  The recipe has changed how I look at salsa in the supermarket.  Instead of trying to ignore the jars lest they grow beards in my fridge, I am now looking at them hopefully as I know what to do with the leftovers.  It might not be traditional but it keeps me sane in lockdown.

*On the day of writing, we had 11 Covid19 diagnoses in our state of Victoria and the temperature in Melbourne hit a high of 20 Celcius.

More easy Tex Mex recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Kale, cheese and mole quesadillas (v)
Kidney bean stew (gf, v)
Rapid refried beans (gf, v)
Super easy vegie layered tortilla casserole

Tex Mex vegan bowl (gf, v)

Mexican rice with salsa
Adapted from Kim's Cravings

1 1/2 cups dried brown rice
2 1/4 cups water
400g tin corn kernels, rinsed and drained
400g tin black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup salsa - bought or home made
handful of baby spinach

Cook the rice in your favourite way.  (I place water and rice in a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 25 minutes.)  Stir in corn, black beans, salsa and spinach.  Gently heat until the corn and black beans are warm and the spinach is wilted.  Check seasoning and adjust to taste.  Can be kept for a few days in the fridge or frozen.

On the Stereo:
The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Saturday 19 September 2020

Gluten free christmas fruit cake

Our Christmas always has fruit cake.  Usually my mum makes it.  Occasionally I dabble in making the fruit cake for a treat.  This year I baked a fruit cake for Christmas in July.  I had bookmarked it a while back because it fascinated me that it had condensed milk and cornflakes. 

I decided to make it gluten free for one of my friends.  Kellogs makes gluten free corn flakes now and they are pretty good.  That was one of the easiest parts of the recipe.  I could not believe there was no regular condensed milk on the supermarket shelf!  I know that we were back in lockdown at the time and Woolworths was having problems with the distribution centre but since when is there a run on condensed milk.  All I could find was coconut condensed milk.

By the way I was surprised on the recipe page claimed that condensed milk is "rarely used in Britain because of its post-war poverty connotations ".  Actually I think we are beyond that sort of post war cringe and condensed milk can been seen as one of the great things to come out of war, like women at work and the NHS.  When I see condensed milk in a recipe I want to try it, and it seems if you can't buy it in a supermarket that I am not the only person to feel that way.

Instead of using pre-made fruit mince, I made a batch of the fruit mince I make each Christmas.  Yes, it took more time (even with saving me time looking in the stores in July) but it is such a great way of using up bits and pieces around the kitchen.   And as I make it each year I am pretty familiar with it.  I have written it into the recipe below but I have also noted that you could just buy fruit mince and a packet of dried fruit, if you don't have the time or ingredients. 

The recipe I was using directed to use a round cake tin.  Having learned about making fruit cake in home economics at high school, I searched for some old paper bags to line the cake tin and used a square one which is much easier to line.  This helps to make the outside stay moist because fruit cakes take a while to bake.  It makes it harder to get a really neat square.

I chose to make the cake for Christmas in July this year because we were in lockdown and I needed food I could transport easily on my bike.  I made it the week before our dinner because I knew it would take longer and keep longer.  I gave quite a lot to my friends and kept a lot for me.  It lasted about 6 weeks.  Christmas cake goes a long way.

It was a nice cake.  Not amazing.  It was a little nubbly.  I wonder if it was because I didn't crush the cornflakes to a powder but left some texture in them.  The other thing that might have made a difference was that the condensed milk I used was a vegan coconut condensed milk.  The tin was only 320g compared to 400g in the regular condensed milk tins.  (Which I assume is what is meant by a "large tin of condensed milk".)  But you don't say no to a cake that is crammed with dried fruit and very pleasant with a cuppa.  It has been great to have it on hand during lockdown.
More fruit cakes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Christmas cake
Fruit mince:
250g dried fruit (I used chopped prunes, dried peaches and sultanas)
125g dried figs , chopped
1/4 tsp each ground ginger, mixed spice, grated nutmeg
3 tbsp whisky
Zest of half a mandarin
Juice of 1 mandarin, 
2 tbsp orange juice 
3-5 tbsp water
1/2 banana
520g fruit mince (see above or use your fruit mince of choice)
280g mixed dried fruit (I used sultanas, dried cranberries and chopped prunes)
100g mixed chopped nuts (I used almonds)
200g crushed gluten free cornflakes
3 eggs, lightly beaten
400g tin condensed milk
1 tsp mixed spice*
1 tsp baking powder 

To make fruit mince: place all ingredients except banana into a large saucepan and stir over a low to medium heat for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is heated through and melding together. The amount of water will depend on if any of your dried fruit is quite dry like my peaches.)  Stand for 1-2 hours to cool and then stir in banana.  I weighed my fruit mince after completion and it was 520g.
To make the cake: Line a 22cm square cake tin with a few layers of old paper bags and then a layer of baking paper.  Preheat oven to 150 C.  Mix all ingredients until combined and scrape into the prepared cake tin.  Bake for 2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the middle.  Cool for at least 10 minutes (I cooled mine in the tin) and turn out.  Wrap in foil and a tea towel until cake is needed.  Mine was fine for about 2 months.

NOTES: Adrian Brookes called for 400g fruit mince and 400g dried fruit.  You can alter this depending on how much of each you have, so long as it adds up to 800g. I have noted here the dried fruit and nuts I used but you can use whatever pleases you or just hunt around the kitchen and see what you have.  I used vegan coconut condensed milk because it was all I could find - but either dairy or non dairy condensed milk would work.
On the Stereo:
1989: Taylor Swift

Saturday 12 September 2020

In My Kitchen - September 2020

I am in denial that it is September.  It can't be so far into the year and yet the weather is warmer and the smell of jasmine hangs in the air in the evenings.  I also don't like to think of how much of the year we have idled away in lockdown when I had so much planned.  Though life has still been busy.  I don't understand why I am so tired when not getting out and about but I find working and homeschooling busy, as well as all the other stuff that needs to be sorted like telehealth, insurance reviews and high school enrollments.  But I am very happy to be starting two weeks of leave.  I have plans to do more blogging, craft, cooking and cleaning!  (And try and get to grips with Blogger's changing formatting.)  But for now, here is a peek into my kitchen.

Currently in lockdown we can only travel 5km and only for essentials or exercise.  I was happy to remember that O'Hea's Bakery is in my area.  I went for a ride there on a recent sunny weekend.  I came home with pesto, chocolate caramel wafers, a pretzel mix, and the newspaper!  It just takes some little luxuries to make a weekend feel special.

Once I found O'Hea's bakery was a nice bike ride away, I took Sylvia.  Wee came home with some baked treats after admiring their range of pasta.

Being in lockdown means a lot of home cooked meals.  On a Friday when I was really tired after a busy day and had been on after work drinks zoom meet up too long, I threw up my hands and said we were going to Heaven.  That's Sylvia's favourite pizza place.

One of the meals that Sylvia and I both eat is Mac n Cheese.  We tried Jac's Mug Macaroni Cheese but have been working on turning it into something quick to make on the stovetop.  

As the weather has started to warm up, we have had a few ice creams in the house.  This Mint with Cookies is our current favourite.

I had planned to make Magdalena Roze's Broccoli Slaw for our Christmas in July Dinner but ran out of energy.  It had to wait for another day.  I was a bit bemused at what to substitute for the buckinis so I used a roasted seed mixture.  It was nice and lasted for days as a healthy side dish or to eat for lunch with a bread roll, but was a bit cold for winter.  I hope it make it again in warmer days.

It is quite convenient to work from home but some days I have breakfast at the computer.  Some days it is bread ad peanut butter.  Some days it is smoothie.  And occasionally it is yoghurt topped with lots of fruit.

Heat packs are great in winter, especially if there is no electric blanket to warm the bed.  When my old heat pack of many years got so worn it the grain started to spill out, I bought a new one.  Unfortunately it went in the microwave when the plate did not turn and got a burnt patch.  It stunk.  So I used the wheat grains from the old bag to replace the new burnt ones.  (I used a funnel to pour it into a small hole and then sewed it up.)

While Sylvia has been doing remote schooling in the second lockdown, yet again I have become more familiar with her school work.  She seems to have a lot of choice boards for many activities.  (I don't envy the teachers trying to keep the kids motivated.)  This means they have a tyranny of choice for some of the day's activities.  In National Science Week, I helped her find a project.  This rainbow jar / layered density tower was made of honey, maple syrup, dishwashing soap, water, olive oil and ethanol, with the help of a little food dye.

Perhaps inspired by her rainbow jar, Sylvia started experimenting with her food.  She made this dessert of layers of chocolate custard and leftover frosting and kiwi fruit.  Not sure what else.  It didn't taste quite as good as it looked but that unicorn confetti looked so pretty.

The craft choice boards have really inspired Sylvia.  I hope to find time to share some photos of more of her craft but this paper plate shark gives me a smile every time I see it.

I am usually very wary of supermarket soup mixes.  A Sri Lankan-spiced lentil and bean soup recipe I chanced across inspired me to buy some.  Of course it did not go into that recipe.  I just admired the pretty legumes and put them into a minestrone.

I love making a bit pot of minestrone but don't usually make it with soaked legumes.  The above lentil and bean soup mix packet said to soak it.  So I did.  It said to boil it for 10 minutes and simmer for 20 minutes.  I found the 20 minutes was far less than I needed.  I think I might have simmered for 50 minutes which was fine for the lentils and beans but not quite enough for the split peas.  I am enjoying the minestrone even with a few toothsome split peas.

Quick meals are very popular lately.  Especially when we get to the supermarket late and get home hungry.  This Taco Tuesday we made easy cheese and tortilla chips nachos and served it with corn on the cob, tomato, spinach and plain yoghurt.  It was simple and satisfying.

This photo of a recent meal does not getting any points for looks but I was proud of how it used kitchen goods.  I had leftover hokkein noodles and vermicelli in the fridge.  The silken tofu in the fridge was a few weeks out of date but smelled fine.  So I made my favourite tofu besan omelette and added noodles, grated carrot and chopped baby spinach.  I left it longer than usual because it was thicker and it was fantastic.  It also gave me a chance to try it in my cast iron skillet that I was given earlier in the year.  After the skillet lingering in the cupboard for months, I have started to enjoy using it.  I worried my omelette would stick because I usually use non-stick frypans.  I had to run an eggflip under the omelette but it worked a treat.  And instead of putting a lid on it , I gave it some time under the grill to crisp up the top.  Another cooking method that works really well with the skillet.

This morning Sylvia and I went to the Coburg Farmers Market a little late.  We were delighted to see our favourite potato lady from Trentham Potato Co.  Gorgeous George was out of kombucha but we bought some wild kombucha and hummus.  Take Me Home had vegetarian lasagnes.  Sylvia wanted apple juice.  I bought some cheese pastries, brownie and pumpkin "sausage" rolls at Pure Pie.  Perhaps the sign had gone missing during the morning but I was not happy to find my brownie was reeking of espesso so I gave it a wide berth.

Finally, Shadow loves indulging in catnip which is growing back in our spring garden.  His crazy eyes look a little like a kid who is so stircrazy from lockdown that when you get to the park and find that the flying fox isn't tied up anymore, you haven't the energy to protest at your kid flying back and forth on it.  Or perhaps he is just giving me a hard stare to remind me that the garden needs attention!

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event, that was started by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial,  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog and visit more kitchens.